UM-DeSoto Alumna Prepares Students for Dream Careers

Alice Robeson uses personal experience to assist nontraditional students

Alice Robeson

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – In her role as a graduate services specialist at Concorde Career College, Alice Robeson does anything and everything she can do to help students land the perfect job.

“I teach them how to dress for success, how to write a resume and how to interview,” Robeson said. “I encourage them to take that next step because they truly can be whatever they want to be.”

Robeson received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a human resource management emphasis from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven in 2016. She regularly draws from her own college experience to guide students at Concorde’s Southaven campus.

Hailing from Jamestown, Tennessee, she enrolled in 1998 at Tennessee Tech University, where she ultimately changed her major from education to business. She moved to Mississippi before she was able to finish a degree in her home state.

She first met with Pat Coats, coordinator of academic support services at UM-DeSoto, in 2013. Coats encouraged her to enroll at Northwest Mississippi Community College for a year before transferring. That decision changed her life, Robeson said.

“I was in my early 30s when I decided to go back to school at Northwest,” she said. “It amazed me that I could still do the work after 15 years. I have no doubt I would not be where I am if it hadn’t been for my time at Ole Miss-DeSoto and Northwest.”

Coats remembered Robeson and checked in with her periodically while she attended Northwest.

“I enjoyed getting to know Alice,” Coats said. “I could immediately tell she was going to do well at the DeSoto Center.”

Once she transferred to UM-DeSoto, she was influenced by Bud Hamilton, associate instructional professor of management.

“Dr. Hamilton made me want to be a better person,” she said. “I was inspired by his love of management and strategy, which helped me choose an emphasis in human resources.”

The flexible class schedule at UM-DeSoto was particularly helpful to Robeson, who had to work around a job and her young son’s football practices.

“As a working parent and single parent it was actually perfect for me,” she said. “It was the perfect balance of work, life and school.”

Students at Concorde have similar challenges, and Robeson has made it her mission to find ways to help them attend classes.

“We have a lot of nontraditional students that commute up to two hours to get here,” she said. “These students need to be in the classroom rather just taking an online course. We’re working on ways to alleviate some of that stress for them.”

Robeson began working at Concorde in June of 2017. One of her favorite success stories at the campus involves a student who was interviewing for an upper-level management position.

“I love the intrinsic reward that I get from seeing ‘aha moments’ firsthand, but when the students come back and tell me their stories – that’s what really gets me,” she said. “I worked with one young lady who was always very quiet and rarely spoke up, but I could tell she was listening.”

Robeson counseled the student on topics such as employer expectations, how to conduct a job search, resume writing and interview skills.

“She interviewed for a big project management position that was unlike one she had ever had,” Robeson said. “She called me after her interview and had all this excitement in her voice. She told me that she listened to everything I said and it worked. She got the job.”

Robeson unequivocally knew she was making an impact at Concorde when a colleague posted her photo on the campus’s Facebook page.

“The students started commenting about how much I’ve helped them,” she said. “It made me feel really good, and it brought tears to my eyes.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

Mother of Seven Pursues Degree After 20-year Break

UM-DeSoto student overcomes obstacles to chase graduation goals

Sarah Riehl

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Sarah Riehl began her collegiate journey in 1997 after graduating from Northshore High School in Slidell, Louisiana. Two decades later, she is continuing that journey at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven.

Earning a degree has always been always a personal goal for Riehl, who attended Louisiana State University straight out of high school as an elementary education major. After two years at LSU, Riehl married and moved to Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Her husband was in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Lejeune. Riehl attended Campbell University there for a brief time before they were transferred to another station.

“I tried two or three times after that to go back to school,” Riehl said. “I went through the application process a couple of times at other duty stations.

“My husband made the decision to continue his career in the Marine Corps, so it got to the point where I couldn’t invest my time and money into something while knowing we would only be stationed there one, two, maybe three years.”

The couple began building their family and ultimately had seven children together. Riehl’s husband retired from the military in 2015 after being diagnosed with leukemia. They relocated to Hernando when his cancer was in remission.

“I decided that things were settling down and I wanted to go back to school,” Riehl said. “It was always my goal.”

She enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College in the spring of 2017 to earn the credits she needed to transfer to UM-DeSoto.

“If the DeSoto Center wasn’t here in Southaven, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said. “Online was not an option, and I can’t drive an hour away, or even 45 minutes, into Memphis.”

Riehl’s husband died in March 2017 after his cancer returned.

“He was always 100 percent behind me in whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “He was my No. 1 fan. Because of his pension and all the things that we set in motion in his Marine Corps career, I have the capability to continue my education. It’s all about balance.”

Riehl is a general studies major at UM-DeSoto. As a single mother of seven, planning is a critical part of her week.

“I keep a big spiral-bound planner that I carry with me,” she said. “I’ve used that for years. Over the weekend, I plan my week ahead and I break things down.

“My youngest is in a day care program twice a week, so I do a lot of my studying and assignments while she’s there or when she takes naps.

“If I know something is coming up, then I plan an easier meal. I do a lot of freezer crockpot meals. Twice a year, my kids help me do a big grocery shop and we prep meals and put them in the freezer. That’s one more thing I don’t have to worry about.”

As for what’s next for Riehl, she will be taking things slow and focusing on her family. Riehl has some 12 classes left before she is able to graduate.

“Regardless of what I decide to do with my degree, I’m still a mom first. My kids range from 16-years-old down to 1-year-old, and they are always going to be first. This is something that I want to finish for me – and I have so many courses that it’s not going to take that long.”

She credits UM-DeSoto admissions counselor Blake Bostick, as well as academic counselors Valerie Haynes and Candace Roberts for assisting her in the transition back to college.

“Every step of the way, Blake has been easing me into it because it’s been so long since I’ve been in school,” she said. “I know it’s not impossible, but so much has changed.

“The technology aspect has been my biggest fear. Candie and Valerie both have been so supportive. Knowing that they have my back – that’s big.”

Bostick applauds Reihl’s tenacity.

“Sarah’s motivation through the admissions process and in the classroom has been remarkable,” Bostick said. “Her perseverance to complete her education should serve as a true inspiration to students who are unsure if they can do it.”

Riehl encourages her children to never stop pursuing their goals, as she is doing.

“I think there’s always something to strive for, no matter how much you know or how good you are at something,” she said. “Whether it’s sports, or academics or your faith, be satisfied, but never stop trying to be better.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

UM-DeSoto Student Recognized for Volunteer Work

Ismail named child advocacy center's Volunteer of the Year, nominated for governor's award

Nazha Ismail

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – For Nazha Ismail, one class project led to fulfilling holiday wishes for 65 DeSoto County foster children. That effort has resulted in a Volunteer of the Year award and an acknowledgement from the Mississippi governor’s office.

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Ismail is a senior general studies major at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she enrolled at UM-DeSoto in fall 2016.

Ismail, who minors in business, psychology and sociology, was initially looking for a place to volunteer for a class assignment. A friend suggested that she contact Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center in Southaven.

HHCAC serves children and families in DeSoto and Tate counties. The nonprofit’s mission is to “respond to child abuse with a supportive team approach that reduces trauma through advocacy, treatment, education and prevention.”

“I wanted something close to home and something with longevity,” Ismail said. “I called and spoke to Mrs. Darlene Cunningham (the center’s family advocate) and I’ve been volunteering there since.”

Ismail thought she would be asked to help with typical office work, but Cunningham gave her a more meaningful task.

“It was a fundraiser where they gather wish lists from children in the foster care system and make sure they experience and have a Christmas,” Ismail said. “I asked if I can take on some of the children’s wish lists and after all was done, I ended up with 65 kids.

“I had never met any of the kids, but what mattered was I needed to make sure their wish lists were met. Many people helped me do that.”

Ismail began asking local businesses if they would consider donating to the project. She received toys, gift cards and monetary donations. She was able to fulfill all the children’s requests.

Ismail was recognized as Healing Heart’s Volunteer of the Year on May 5at the center’s Race to Heal Hearts fundraising event.

Nazha Ismail collected toys, gift cards and monetary donations to help fulfill the Christmas wishes of 65 children in the DeSoto County foster care system as a volunteer for Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center. Submitted photo

“Nazha worked all fall to organize donations for the kids,” said Cheryl Beene, president of Healing Heart’s board of directors. “The photos of donations don’t even do justice to the amount of work she put in – she even got Southeastern Truck Lines to transport the gifts for us.

“All that said, we were thrilled to honor her as our Volunteer of the Year.”

Not only was Ismail named the center’s Volunteer of the Year, but she was also nominated for Mississippi’s 2018 Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence Award. As a nominee, she received a certificate of appreciation from Volunteer Mississippi and Mississippi’s first lady, Deborah Bryant.

“I personally didn’t feel I did enough, but these recognitions were very humbling and I am thankful for them,” Ismail said.

Ismail is still finalizing her plans for what she will do after graduation, but one thing is certain.

“I do wish to continue with Healing Hearts and any other organization that needs help,” she said. “I really feel that every person that wants to volunteer needs to visit one of many organizations and do it.

“Many people out there want to help but don’t know who to ask or where to start. All I can say is, just do it.”

For more information about the UM regional campus at DeSoto Center-Southaven, visit http://olemiss.edu/desoto.

Southaven Parks’ Marketing Director Reflects on DeSoto Center Tenure

Olivia Craig earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in May

Olivia Craig

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Olivia Craig has been quite busy since graduating from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center -Southaven in May.

Craig, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, immediately landed a job as director of marketing for the city of Southaven’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The department oversees multiple facilities for various sports, including the Snowden Grove Baseball Complex and the city’s new tennis complex. Southaven’s 20 neighborhood parks also fall under the department’s purview.

A large portion of Craig’s job encompasses acquiring sponsorships for Snowden Grove baseball. She is also tasked with building awareness of Southaven’s parks through community events.

“One of my first priorities in this new role was to build relationships,” she said. “I’m involved in all our local chambers and represent Snowden while attending their events.”

Craig even helped organize the swearing in for Mayor Darren Musselwhite in June.

“I love that what I do at my job changes every day,” she said. “Having received the opportunity to welcome back Mayor Musselwhite and the aldermen sworn in that day was one of my favorite moments I’ve experienced thus far.”

Craig has helped the department surpass its fiscal year marketing projections by more than $50,000 since her arrival in May, said Wesley Brown, director of the parks and recreation department.

“Olivia is a remarkable asset and addition to our team,” Brown said. “Our presence in the business community is growing daily because of her efforts. She knows her audience, she is a powerful communicator, she’s a brilliant strategist and she implements our game plan effectively and efficiently.

“It’s evident that Olivia received a first-class education at the University of Mississippi-Desoto.”

Beginning her college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College’s DeSoto Center in 2012, she took a short break in her sophomore year to determine what the next step in her academic journey should be. She ultimately decided to pursue marketing at the university’s DeSoto Center in fall 2013.

Hailing from Hernando, Craig felt at home at the DeSoto Center.

“I fell in love with the campus,” she said. “Not only did it feel like home because it was in DeSoto County, but I also received a number of scholarships that worked to my advantage.”

Craig received support from her peers, as well as faculty and staff at the facility.

“I love Dr. Rachel Smith (assistant professor of marketing),” Craig said. “I took her for four or five classes. She is genuinely so interested in her students and so nice.”

Pat Coats, UM-DeSoto’s coordinator of academic support services, also positively influenced Craig during her time at the campus by inviting her to her office for words of encouragement.

Like many of her fellow students, Craig worked throughout her time at the campus. She ultimately learned about Southaven’s marketing position through networking at her job at Lucky Brand. With a freshly earned degree, she was the perfect candidate.

Craig credits UM-DeSoto for her degree and her success as a young professional.

“I can’t brag on the DeSoto campus enough,” Craig said. “It was such a great opportunity for me and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.”

UM-DeSoto Graduate’s Career Soars

Alumna manages inventory accounting for Endeavor Air

Heather Gatzke

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – After earning her degree in finance from the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Heather Gatzke’s career has reached great heights.

The 2011 graduate works for Endeavor Air as a manager of inventory accounting. Her journey with the airline began while she was still in school at UM-DeSoto.

“While I attended UM-DeSoto, I worked for Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines as an aircraft parts buyer,” Gatzke said. “About six weeks before I graduated, a financial analyst position opened and I applied. I was offered the position and started in early September of 2011.”

From there, Gatzke began to climb the corporate ladder at Pinnacle, which became Endeavor Air after being purchased by Delta Air Lines.

“In May 2013, Delta relocated our corporate offices to Minneapolis,” she said. “Prior to the relocation, I was offered the position of manager of revenue, which I held until January of 2016, when I transitioned to the manager of inventory accounting.”

With initial plans to attend pharmacy school, Gatzke hadn’t always considered a degree in finance. After receiving her associate degree in business from Northwest Mississippi Community College, she experienced the deaths of two grandparents and an uncle.

Gatzke made the difficult decision to take a break from school and reevaluate her goals.

By the time she was ready to go back to school, UM-DeSoto officially offered the finance program. She was able to take advantage of the 2+2 partnership with NWCC.

“Through research and lengthy discussions with friends, I decided that the degree in finance from Ole Miss was the best fit for me,” Gatzke said.

Gatzke thrived in the finance program. She said the material she learned was excellent in terms of its application to the real world. She became close to faculty mentors, one of which was clinical assistant professor of finance Lynn Kugele.

Her professors had “very high expectations” and were “eager to share their knowledge,” she said.

Gatzke said she was honored to earn the Outstanding Graduate in Finance designation that year.

“My entire academic career was as a nontraditional student, attending classes at night, on weekends and online,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to obtain a certain GPA. All I did for three years was go to work during the day and go to class at night. If I wasn’t at class I was studying or doing homework.

“Graduating summa cum laude was already enough of an honor. It just proves how hard work and dedication can pay off.”

Kugele applauds both Gatzke’s academic and career successes.

“Heather is easily one of the most outstanding finance students we have had at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” she said. “Her career path upon graduating is exactly what we hope will happen for our graduates: a move into the field of their choice and continued opportunities to move up.

“The combination of Heather’s work ethic and an Ole Miss finance degree gave her the credentials she needed to start that move up the corporate ladder. Though Heather is in Minneapolis now, we have kept in touch and get to visit in person when she comes home to visit family.”

Gatzke encourages other students to consider pursuing a finance degree and a “quality education” at UM-DeSoto. She plans to further her education by pursuing an MBA in the future.

For more information about finance and the University of Mississippi’s regional campus in Southaven, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/desoto.

UM-DeSoto to Host Informational Events for NWCC Students

Regional campus staff aims to assist students with enrollment in a bachelor's degree program

UM-DeSoto partners with Northwest Mississippi Community College to help students finish their bachelor’s degrees. The campus is hosting two events in March to assist students with the enrollment process. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Northwest Mississippi Community College students who plan to transfer into a University of Mississippi bachelor’s degree-completion program are invited to two upcoming events at the university’s Southaven regional campus.

The first event, 2+2 Transfer Day, is slated for 10 a.m.-noon and 3-5 p.m. March 8 in the lobby of the NWCC DeSoto Center at 5197 W.E. Ross Parkway. Students will have a chance to sit down with advisers from all the campus’ degree programs, visit with financial aid and admissions staff, and enjoy refreshments while they are helped through the enrollment process.

“Transferring can be overwhelming, and 2+2 Transfer Day aims to simplify it,” said Blake Bostick, admissions counselor for the regional campus. “The event is a ‘one-stop shop’ for students to learn about degree programs, financial aid, admissions and anything else they need to know about transferring to the University of Mississippi-DeSoto.”

Additionally, during NWCC’s spring break, students can take advantage of “Catch a Break.” For one week only, application fees are waived for students who complete an admissions application for the UM-DeSoto campus.

To participate in Catch a Break, students should visit the main office at the DeSoto Center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week of March 13-17, meet with an admissions counselor to go over their transcript, and complete an application for summer or fall 2017.

“By attending these events, we hope students will gain a better understanding of the opportunities available at Ole Miss-DeSoto,” Bostick said.

NWCC graduating sophomores, as well as freshmen, are encouraged to attend both events. For more details or for general information about UM-DeSoto, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/.

Overstreet-Miller Joins DeSoto Campus as IMC Instructor

New full-time faculty member brings extensive experience in public relations, marketing

Patricia Overstreet-Miller

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven has hired a full-time faculty member to strengthen its integrated marketing communications program.

Patricia Overstreet-Miller, who began working at the regional campus this spring as an IMC instructor, has an expansive career in communications, including public relations, marketing, advertising and lobbying. At the corporate level, Overstreet-Miller has worked for companies such as Allstate, Options Clearing Corp, Zurich Insurance and the McCormick Foundation.

IMC is one of the fastest-growing programs at Ole Miss. The program, housed under the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, includes the study of advertising, public relations, brand management and research into consumer insights, enabling students to build a customized toolbox of professional skills.

An IMC degree offers a myriad of benefits, Overstreet-Miller said.

“IMC opens doors to a world that can take you to so many diverse experiences that can be rewarding both financially and in terms of personal growth,” she said. “It’s never boring and the growth potential is amazing.

“Most executives value communication skills, and the unique communicator who has the integrated approach to and understanding of communication is particularly valuable. While we all have to start at the beginning and work our way up, IMC can be a real leg up in a competitive world.”

Overstreet-Miller plans to share her experience in community relations, government relations, investor relations, employee communications and media relations with her students. She also hopes to connect IMC students at UM-DeSoto with their peers at the university’s Oxford and Tupelo campuses to share learning and experiences.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, Overstreet-Miller leveraged her interest in language and in people to become a communications professional. After earning a graduate degree in marketing and finance, she became a nontraditional student pursuing a Master of Business Administration.

The latter experience gave her a special understanding of many at the Southaven campus, she said.

“Many of our DeSoto students are older, already working and bring with them unique life experiences,” she said. “That can make their learning opportunity particularly rewarding.

“Since I went back to school for an MBA in the middle of my own career, when I had young children, I know that it’s a challenge to balance school with other life responsibilities. But it’s also a chance to create new opportunities in a career that’s already started, or to make a shift to a new career direction.”

Rick Gregory, executive director of UM-DeSoto, sees great potential for the program with Overstreet-Miller’s guidance.

“We are incredibly excited about Patricia joining our team and also about growing the integrated marketing communications program on our campus,” Gregory said. “With so many large corporations, businesses and nonprofits in close proximity to Southaven, our IMC students have unique advantages in terms of internship opportunities.”

Overstreet-Miller agrees that there are numerous opportunities ahead.

“The University of Mississippi is one of a handful of great schools offering an IMC program,” Overstreet-Miller said. “Our students are fortunate to have this opportunity, and I feel lucky to be a part of what our school is building.”

For more information about the IMC program and UM-DeSoto, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/.

Schools Look to DeSoto Writing Center for Insight

Faculty and staff offer advice, resources for development of middle and high school centers

Josh Green (right), director of Independence High School’s writing center, oversees a tutoring session with students Josh Figures and Martasia Copeland. Green reached out to the University of Mississippi – DeSoto Writing Center for resources and ideas. Submitted Photo

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – As director of the Writing Center at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center-Southaven, Jeanine Rauch sees the value of honing writing skills early.

“Ultimately, writing is clear thinking,” said Rauch, an instructor in the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “When students are confident in their own writing, the writing process becomes more focused on audience and purpose, which leads to clear communication.”

The Writing Center at the UM regional campus offers free services designed to help students become stronger writers and critical thinkers. Teachers from DeSoto and Tate counties recently visited the center to glean ideas for creating and developing writing centers at their respective schools.

“Incorporating a middle school or high school writing center introduces the importance of writing and helps students become more aware and connected to their own writing,” Rauch said. “Peers helping peers allows for a collaborative conversation through the writing process.”

Robert Cummings, chair of the university’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, said that Rauch’s leadership at the writing center “knows no bounds.”

“(Rauch) has long been of great service to her students, the students of the University of Mississippi, and to students at Northwest Mississippi Community College,” Cummings said. “Not content with this level of contribution, she is now extending opportunities for designing supplemental peer literacy instruction to her partners in the K-12 environment.

“Her work is truly exceptional and exemplifies the best work of writing centers on a national level.”

Tarra R. Taylor, English teacher and writing center director at Hernando Middle School, met with Rauch this summer.

“Teaching writing is a passion that I have,” Taylor said. “So, in an attempt to do what I love to do, I wanted to offer something to my school that would not only benefit the students that I teach but also the entire student body.”

Taylor began by reading and researching writing centers in colleges and secondary schools.

“Jeanine and her team of consultants were more than welcoming and helpful,” she said. “They informed me of how their writing center was run and offered me suggestions for the middle school level.”

The DeSoto Writing Center team provided Taylor with a number of resources, including “The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors,” a sample writing center feedback survey, a tutor script and relevant articles. Rauch and one of the center’s consultants even accompanied Taylor when she presented the idea to faculty at Hernando Middle School.

Many students enter middle school with “negative attitudes toward writing,” Taylor said. This could stem from a lack of confidence or limited writing skills, she said.

“When the confidence level of students is built, students will want to write more,” she said. “In turn, writing achievement will be positively affected.

“The end goal is for students to become effective written communicators. They will write for a plethora of purposes and audiences; therefore, writing skills are important in order for them to be successful at it.”

The Hernando Middle School Writing Center launched Nov. 14. Taylor is confident that the center will make an impact on her students.

Josh Green, English teacher and writing center director at Independence High School, also recently met with Rauch. Green’s writing center began in 2014 under the direction of Jason Jones, the writing center director at Northwest Mississippi Community College.

When Green was named director, he began investigating new ways to develop the center.

“As a teacher consultant for the University of Mississippi Writing Project, I know firsthand the quality work that Ole Miss does within the field of writing,” Green said. “I knew that (Rauch’s) work with the writing center could provide critical insight and perspective for us. Jeanine and the writing center staff members were extremely helpful and personally met with us. “

This year, Independence High School’s center has served some 20 students so far.

“They have shown significant improvement and most have now visited more than once, which is exciting for us,” he said. “We love the fact that students are beginning to feel comfortable and continue to come back. Some of them have even become our biggest recruiters.”

Green recognizes the role that writing plays in student success.

“Writing is a vital skill that essentially permeates all academic disciplines and endeavors,” he said. “Whether it is at the elementary, secondary, post-secondary or corporate level, writing is a key component in succeeding in any field.

“Writing is not a vacuum skill that is applicable and/or useful only to students pursuing an English degree or a career in technical writing, but rather it is something that is used in practical facets of life such as: resume writing, surveys, engineering field reports, research proposals, etc.”

Rauch encourages schools to consider the development of a writing center.

“Writing centers create both a learning and collaborative space where students help each other improve upon their writing skills,” she said. “Students who frequent a writing center become more engaged with their own writing which leads to finding their own unique voice.”

For more information about UM-DeSoto’s writing center, visit http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/desoto/current/writingcenter.html.

Student Continues Education, Cares for Mother Recovering from Cancer

Matt Waldrup hopes to attend law school after receiving degree from UM DeSoto Center

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the University of Mississippi - DeSoto’s Graduation Celebration on May 3.

Matt Waldrup and his mom, Johnnie, at the UM DeSoto Center’s graduation celebration on May 3.

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Matt Waldrup can think of one person who wants to see him graduate more than anyone: his mom.

“Ever since I was little, she always said, ‘I just want to see you grow up, finish your education and be happy,'” said Waldrup, a Memphis native who is finishing his final semester at the University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center in Southaven. “So not only is this my dream, it’s hers also. Soon we will both be seeing things that we have wanted our entire lives.”

Waldrup, who is set to receive a Bachelor of General Studies on Saturday (May 14), has been caring for his mother since she was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2009. That was the summer that Waldrup planned to enroll as a freshman at the University of Mississippi‘s main campus in Oxford.

The diagnosis was a heartbreaking blow for Waldrup, whose father died of brain cancer just two years before.

“All responsibilities of a husband, of a son, of a caretaker – they fell on me,” he said. “It was very scary because I was still what I would consider a young age. My mom had to endure a lot of treatments, surgeries, etc., and being there alone was hard.”

Two years into his mother’s treatment, Waldrup returned to school. He received an associate degree from Northwest Community College in 2014 before enrolling at the university’s DeSoto regional campus. Waldrup, who also works in Southaven, said that his education “would not be possible” without the convenience of having a campus close to home.

Through his major, Waldrup is minoring in psychology, legal studies and English. Kacy Dixon, academic adviser for general studies majors, encouraged Waldrup during his time at Ole Miss.

“Matt has a lot of perseverance,” Dixon said. “I am proud of him for making it this far. Even when he has setbacks, he picks up and keeps going. It takes a lot of character to tackle those types of responsibilities at such a young age.”

One of Waldrup’s proudest moments during his time at the DeSoto campus was when he realized that he couldn’t go it alone.

“I’ve always been a person who has said, ‘Matt, just do it yourself,'” he said. “‘You don’t have time for your own feelings. You have to put your mom and school first.’ I’ve realized that I’m important also. Reaching out to my counselor, Mr. Brian Adams, and getting the help I needed from Ole Miss was a proud moment for me.”

Counseling services at the university have been essential to Waldrup’s success, he said. Though his mother is still battling severe complications from radiation treatment, he is determined to stay optimistic.

“Even though it has been a struggle, I take it one day at a time,” he said. “I just give it my best every day. Whether it’s school, whether it’s work or at home – no matter what situation I’m in – I give it my best. That’s what I’ve learned. If you try your best, something good will come of it.”

Through the ups and downs of Waldrup’s daily life, he said he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.

“I’ve realized that there are so many people supporting me,” he said. “One of my friends even started a GoFundMe page called ‘Mercy for Matt.’ It is really overwhelming to witness this outpouring of kindness.”

Waldrup wishes to pay it forward by encouraging students who might be in similar situations.

“Never give up, give it your best, count your blessings and don’t look at what’s wrong in your life, but what’s good,” he said. “If you don’t feel that you can do that, then seek some help. Help can always get you to another place like it did me, though I’m still a working progress. With this campus and university, I’ve learned that you aren’t alone.”

After he receives his degree, Waldrup plans to attend law school when the timing is right. Dixon said she looks forward to seeing what Waldrup’s future holds.

“I’m excited to celebrate with Matt and his mom at Commencement,” she said. “It will be a special time.”

Top Nontraditional Students Join Alpha Sigma Lambda

Nearly 20 DeSoto Center scholars inducted at ceremony

Nearly 20 students were inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda at the University of Mississippi’s Southaven campus.

Nearly 20 students were inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda at the University of Mississippi’s regional campus in Southaven.

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – The University of Mississippi at DeSoto Center chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society recently inducted 18 seniors into the organization.

“It is an honor to recognize these outstanding students and welcome them into Alpha Sigma Lambda,” said Rick Gregory, executive director of the regional campus. “They are a great representation of UM-DeSoto’s dedication to excellence in academics.”

Alpha Sigma Lambda was established in the mid-1940s to honor adult students who, while adroitly handling their life responsibilities, achieve and maintain high scholastic standards. The organization has more than 300 chapters nationwide.

Rachel Smith, assistant professor of marketing and local ASL chapter adviser, congratulated the students at the April 19 induction ceremony.

“This celebration is about you – the best and the brightest, the hardest workers, the curve setters, the deep thinkers, the ringers in the classroom,” Smith said. “Universities brag a lot about their faculty, their rankings and even physical facilities, but at the end of the day we are ultimately judged by the quality of our graduates.

“We are only as good as what we produce – and that’s you. You are what matters most at this great university. You are our legacy and our building of a better future.”

A complete list of inductees, as well as their hometowns and majors, is as follows:

  • Cathy Adams, Southaven, Spanish
  • Meshia Brown, Holly Springs, social work
  • Wanda Carney, Hernando, English
  • Dianne Carpenter, Southaven, general studies
  • Kelsey Clark, Hernando, elementary education
  • Rhonda Cook, Holly Springs, general studies
  • Elainna Ferrell, Hernando, general studies
  • Megan Hyland, Randolph, social work
  • Anna Lunati, Memphis, Tennessee, marketing
  • McKinley McCarty, Southaven, paralegal studies
  • Karen Moore, Senatobia, elementary education
  • Jessica Salmon, Hernando, social work
  • Darla Shuford, Olive Branch, general studies
  • Lauren Stephens, Southaven, elementary education
  • Kendria Strowder, Walls, social work
  • Chance Thweatt, Horn Lake, criminal justice
  • Lynda Witherington, Byhalia, general studies
  • Shanika Young, Southaven, elementary education

Housed in the DeSoto Center in Southaven, the DeSoto regional campus offers undergraduate (junior and senior) and graduate programs for traditional and nontraditional students. For more information, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/desoto or call 662-342-4765.